When Mayra Castanon decided to go to nursing school, she had her choice of schools with nursing programs.
Castanon, 18, is a freshman at Oklahoma State University — Oklahoma City. The university was the most convenient option because it's close to her home. But there was another factor that helped her make the decision, as well, she said.
“It was cheap,” she said. “It was really cheap.”
OSU-Oklahoma City offers among the nation's lowest tuition, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Education.
When she graduates, Castanon hopes to pursue a medical career in the Oklahoma City area, she said. Although she considered other schools, she eventually chose OSU-Oklahoma City because of price and convenience, she said.
According to the department's College Affordability and Transparency Center, OSU-Oklahoma City had the 20th-lowest rate for tuition and fees among four-year public colleges and universities during the 2011-12 academic year, the most recent year the data lists.
Although OSU-Oklahoma City primarily offers two-year degrees or lower, the university also offers a bachelor's degree in emergency responder training. The university's tuition and fees came to $2,559 for 30 credit hours during that academic year.
The University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma also fell into the bottom 10 percent in terms of tuition and fee costs nationwide. USAO students paid $3,744 in tuition and fees for 30 hours during the 2011-12 academic year.
Both universities have seen their tuition rates climb since then. In the fall, in-state students at OSU-Oklahoma City will see a tuition and fee rate of $3,310 for 30 credit hours in lower-division courses and $4,045 for 30 credit hours in upper-division courses. That rate represents no increase over last year's rate.
During the upcoming academic year, USAO students will see a tuition and fee rate of $5,790 for 30 credit hours. That represents a 7.2 percent increase over last year.
Four of Oklahoma's public schools also appeared among the bottom 10 percent in terms of net price, which is an estimate of what an average student might expect to pay for tuition and fees after financial aid is taken into account.
USAO, OSU Institute of Technology, Oklahoma Panhandle State University and Northeastern State University all were listed among the public four-year schools with the lowest net price.
Family of Faith College in Shawnee was among the private four-year schools with the lowest net price during the same year, and Carl Albert State College in Poteau was listed among public two-year colleges with the lowest net price.
The data also highlighted the increasing cost of a college education, both in Oklahoma and nationwide, since the beginning of the recession.
According to data, the net price at OSU's main campus climbed by 3.3 percent between the 2008-09 year — roughly the beginning of the recession — and the 2010-11 year, climbing from $12,576 for 30 credit hours in the fall of 2008 to $12,990 in the fall of 2010.
During the same period, the University of Oklahoma's net price climbed 17.6 percent, increasing from $13,002 in 2008-09 to $15,289 in 2011-12.
Matt Hamilton, OU's registrar and vice president for enrollment and student financial services, said he was skeptical about that statistic. He said he didn't know of any factor that would have caused OU's net price to climb so sharply in relation to other universities in the area, including OSU and the University of Texas, which also saw a 3.3 percent increase.
Tuition and fees at OU actually increased at a slower rate than those at OSU between the 2009-10 academic year and the 2012-13 year, climbing about 16.3 percent at OU and about 20 percent at OSU.
Hamilton noted that the U.S. Department of Education only began tracking colleges' net price fairly recently. Colleges and universities are required to report the statistic under the 2008 Higher Education and Opportunity Act.
“There are a lot of apples and oranges comparisons,” he said. “I don't think that's an accurate representation of reality.”